The Problem of Fake News

Fake news is an increasingly prominent issue today. Aileen McGrath looks at the toll it has taken on the world stage.[br]THE reporting of news has long stood as one of the most important interests of the general public. There will always be a demand for accurate news reporting. But, in recent years the form in which it is presented in has evolved.The spreading of fake news is an increasingly pertinent issue in our world. This ‘news’ is often a twisting of facts or over-exaggerating certain incidents. Perhaps the demands imposed by 24-hour online news coverage, which has developed rapidly over a relatively short period, has put accuracy behind speed.In a number of cases, the truth has been deliberately skewed. News reporting should be unbiased, with the intention to not directly alter or influence people’s views but to provide them with the sufficient information to form their own. This concept seems to have been widely lost. Fake news is an umbrella term, one which includes bias, propaganda and deliberate misinformation.An example of this close to home comes courtesy of The, which claimed at the end of 2016 that political correctness was preventing the reporting of “a massive riot of 250 mostly African-Irish youths in Dublin on St Stephen’s Day”.
“fake news is a direct threat to democratic institutions.”
Reports show that events occurred but on a much smaller scale than was reported. Thus, there was pretty heavy criticism over how the story was tackled with a political agenda.The internet and various other forms of social media have fast become the primary mediums of communication today. The influence the media holds is truly astronomical. The recent wave of fake news has proven to demonstrate this influence. Stories without an ounce of factual evidence behind them still serve to guide opinions. The more shockingly salacious the better. Their word is gospel. The hype garners up enough attention to assure that any remedying of this untruth is buried under the hysteria.Ability to reach the masses and connect instantly has put accuracy in the back seat. This is a dangerous turn of events. People are only interested in being first to break a story, to get the most clicks, to be the most shared, but at what cost?The Washington Post for example published two inaccurate Russia-centric bombshell stories over the past two months. The pieces have been amended yet the damage of haste had been done.
“Stories without an ounce of factual evidence behind them still serve to guide opinions.”
Regardless of the number of editor’s notes in the piece, the title remains the same. A central driving force behind fake news is that up to 60% of the links shared on social media are shared based wholly on the title, with the sharer having never read the article the title of a piece, for many, becomes the story itself.That even top tier newspapers like the Washington Post publish articles that have not passed a thorough fact check against multiple sources is problematic. A solid reputation means their word is taken as true. The facts they present are presumed to be correct and the story grows. Altering important and influential information changes people’s perceptions. Once a story is published it doesn’t really matter if the truth comes out, the impact has already been made.We can use Hillary Clinton as an example. While her loss was not a direct cause of the slurry of fake news in the final days of her campaign, reporting on the topic certainly did not bode favourably.Around a week before the November election somebody posted on Twitter that Hillary Clinton was at the centre of a paedophilia ring. This story was retweeted by bots and eventually, outstandingly by General Michael Flynn, who is soon to be President Trump’s national security adviser. As such, fake news is a direct threat to democratic institutions.Supporters of each candidate were so ready and willing to believe any headline thrown at them with a view only to condemn the reputation of their opposition in the eyes of the public. They raced to find the most shocking headline, bypassing both moral and ethical codes of journalism in their entirety.We can see the real impact fake news has socially and democratically and yet it is seen as too petty to be a criminal offence in Ireland. But should defamation laws change? It isn’t really feasible considering the power of these major media outlets. Let alone that the scope seems too broad. Trying to regulate something that cannot be controlled would be futile.Truly, the most important counter to fake news is good old fashioned journalism. However, it must not be forgotten that words are powerful. Fake news has very real repercussions.